The Tetons… Way Beyond Grand

At the end of my last post I was just arriving at the base of the Tetons by way of the Snake River and Jackson. I came through this very same place last fall, during the baby steps of my journey. Back then I was still learning the ins and outs and dos and don’ts of RV life. I was too naive to know that the 307 mile drive from Red Fleet Reservoir in northeast Utah to Moran Wyoming, with numerous photo ops along the way, was going to take me way longer than the six hours allotted. Although I could see the Tetons looming in the distance, it was dark before I arrived in Jackson, and I missed the spectacular scenery as I drove north at the base of these majestic mountains.

I was thrilled to be back… with time to explore! I found a wonderful shaded campsite in the Gros Ventre Campground, which was important to me since there are no hook-ups (meaning no AC) and I knew dogs were not allowed on the hiking trails. After exploring the park and surrounding area that evening, and with plans of a sunrise photo excursion in the morning, the girls and I settled in early for the night.

While I was rubbing sleep from my eyes before sunrise the following morning I heard Sadie start “huffing”. This is the gentle warning  sound she starts making before she goes into a full on bark. I knew there was something lurking outside my RV, I just didn’t know what. It was still very dark, and it took my eyes awhile to adjust before spotting two young bull moose walking right through my campsite… literally a few feet from my RV. Even when I cracked open the door, and eventually turned on a flashlight, they lingered… watching me, and sniffing around the picnic table. It was far too dark to take pictures, but I was thrilled by the encounter just the same.

My morning journey took me out Mormon Row to capture some of the old homestead structures. I was amazed to find several “photographers” lined up with cameras on tripod shooting frame after frame without moving. No offense meant, as I know they were there in hopes of THE shot, but when I’m exploring new places I have to move about. I respectfully gave them time to get their shots and then ventured around the place, peeking in windows and through doorways. It’s the only way to truly get a sense of what life might have been like in such a place.

Homestead barn along Mormon Row

The Grand Tetons from Mormon Row

Just down the road I spotted a large herd of Bison moving in my direction. I stopped and waited, enjoying their slow migration from west to east. I was joined by one couple in a truck who remained still as I quietly photographed the herd moving toward me, and then splitting themselves around me to cross the road I was on. I would not dream of moving toward them, and felt comfortable as they moved toward me, but respectfully edged closer to my car door as they drew close. After three quarters of the herd had moved past me something startled the stragglers, and I have to admit… the earth literally moved as they charged on by to catch up with the others. (This is not the story I mentioned in the last post, but I promise to share that in the next.)

Young Bison playing amongst the herd

Two mothers and their young

That afternoon, I took my laptop to the back porch of the office building… the only wifi in the park… to catch up on a few things. While there I met some wonderful folks who have since become great friends; David and Beth Lewis from Arkansas and Jesse Bridgeman from Arizona. With Jesse as our fearless leader we set out on an 11.3 mile hike the following morning, to Amphitheater Lake. The 3300 ft climb, to nearly 10,000 feet was made well worth it by the amazing vistas, especially at the top.

Bradley and Taggart Lakes from Amphitheater Lake trail

Ruffed Grouse?

“Will look adorable for food!” It was hard to resist this little guy.

Beth, David and Jesse

Taking a break at Amphitheater Lake

Amphitheater Lake

Amphitheater Lake spills into Surprise Lake below

Beth taking in the view from Amphitheater Lake

Surprise Lake

I started back down the mountain ahead of the others because I wanted to hike around the back side of Surprise Lake to check out the view. I don’t like holding others back with my thirst for “imagery” along the way, so sometimes it’s best to hike on ahead. While on my own I came upon this doe, who surprisingly let me gently move within 10 feet of her.

Female Mule Deer

Plenty of room… with a view

The Motley “Crew”

On the way up the mountain I happened to notice a very slight movement quit a distance uphill from me. Ears. Deer ears. That’s all we could see… wiggling ears, and maybe spots? A fawn? Or was it two? So hard to say from that distance. On the way back down I watched for the place where I had seen them, and was almost surprised to see the ears again. I couldn’t resist the urge to climb up the hill to get a closer look. I kept a respectable distance so as not to startle them, and stood in awe for awhile… at the patience of these two youngsters, remaining still and quiet where their mother left them. I doubted the doe I photographed earlier up the mountain was their mother. The distance between them seemed farther than a mother would venture from her young.

The following morning I had the pleasure of meeting Ted Kerasote, the author of one of my favorite books, Merle’s Door-Lessons from a Freethinking Dog. This is not only a heartwarming tale, but very enlightening and educational as well. You dog lovers (and I know a high percentage of those following my journey are) will love this book. Ted invited me to meet up with him at his home for a hike along the river with our dogs, and I gladly took him up on his offer. His home was no more than ten minutes from my campsite, farther up the Gros Ventre River. Naturally, most of our conversation focused on dogs and publishing. Since I’m in the middle of a couple book projects I couldn’t resist picking his brain a bit on his publishing experiences, and he was wonderfully forthcoming with a few juicy tidbits of advice. My heartfelt thanks to Ted for taking time out of his busy schedule. It was a special treat to meet him and his dog, Pukka (subject of yet another book).

Ted Kerasote and Pukka with Merle’s Memorial and Peace Flags in the background

Along on the hike were Sadie, Jazzy, and Ted’s dog Pukka, as well as two other tag alongs. They all trotted along with us off-leash, which was wonderful. Ted called back a couple of the dogs who had trotted on ahead of us when he spotted a small herd of Antelope. Once they returned to us, several of the Antelope moved as a tight group in our direction… clearly out of sheer curiosity… and after a few moments of observation they dispersed.

Pronghorn Antelope

That afternoon I set out for a solo hike up to Phelps Lake, and encountered more Bison and Moose on the way. Storms come and go rather quickly around here, and I was glad  I tossed my rain parka in my backpack since it rained (gently) during half of my hike, just as it had done on a few others. It’s always a good idea to have rain gear when hiking in the mountains.

Female Moose cooling down just like Jazzy does

Bull Moose, wearing a more worried than wary expression

A small corner of Phelps Lake

Rainbow following an afternoon rain shower

As evening approached I headed farther out Gros Ventre Road to Slide Lake, and beyond to the Red Hills, hoping for some pretty evening color. Atherton Creek campground on Slide Lake is where I originally thought I’d stay in this area. I ultimately chose not to because it was a fair bit farther away from most of what I wanted to do, and I’d been told that the road was somewhat questionable for a large motorhome. For many reasons I’m glad I ended up at Gros Ventre Campground, but I did find the road “doable” and would love to come back and camp on this lake one day. It was peaceful, serene and remote… and looked like a marvelous place to kayak!

Slide Lake

Red Hills beyond Slide Lake

Sunset over the Tetons from a pond on Gros Ventre Road

And that’s not all! I still have much to share the about the vast and beautiful combined jewels known as Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. I, personally, am ever so grateful to our forefathers who schemed up preserving these beautiful places across our country!



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